Association for Women in Mathematics

Association for Women in Mathematics

The Association for Women in Mathematics was founded in January 1971. There was a joint meeting of the American Mathematical Society, the Mathematical Association of America and the Association for Symbolic Logic in Atlantic City, New Jersey, USA, from 21 to 24 January 1971. There were 3513 people at this joint meeting and not one of the one-hour talks was delivered by a woman. Only about 5% of the over 300 American Mathematical Society 10-minute talks were delivered by a woman. At this meeting the Mathematics Action Group met and, at the end of the meeting Joanne Darken, then an instructor at Temple University, suggested that the women present remain. In addition to Joanne Darken, several women remained for the meeting, among them: Lenore Blum, then a graduate student at Maryland University, Mary Gray, then at the American University, Diane Laison, then an instructor at Temple University, Gloria Olive, then a Senior Lecturer at the University of Otago, New Zealand, and Annie Selden. Mary Gray took the lead and those present decided to set up an organisation they called the 'Association of Women Mathematicians'.

There was another event at the joint meeting in Atlantic City which, although not directly relevant to the setting up of the Association is still worth recounting at this point. The Council of the American Mathematical Society met during the Atlantic City meeting and Mary Gray attended as an observer. When she was asked to leave, she said the American Mathematical Society had no rules restricting attendance at Council meetings. It was explained to her that there was a 'gentleman's agreement' that only Council members attended, to which she replied that she was no gentlemen. However, after this the American Mathematical Society made clear that Council meetings were open to observers to attend.

There was a group of women mathematicians already in existence organised by Linda Rothschild and Alice Schafer at Wellesley College, a women's college in Wellesley, Massachusetts founded in 1875. This group joined the new Association of Women Mathematicians as soon as it was set up and the Association established an office at Wellesley. Mary Gray played a major role in the new Association, both as the first president and as the first editor of the Newsletter. Carol Wood, president in 1991-93, said [2]:-

My overwhelming sense ... is that the Association for Women in Mathematics would not have existed when it did, if at all, without the energy and vision of Mary Gray. That is probably too obvious to say, and of course there are others who shaped, changed, nurtured, etc. in critical ways ... But I was always struck by Mary's vision ...
Mary Gray produced the first Newsletter of the Association, still with its original title of 'Association of Women Mathematicians', in May 1971. Here are two short pieces she wrote for this first Newsletter [4]:-
Women in mathematics, as well as in other fields, are frequently put on the defensive by being challenged to name great women mathematicians. The reply can be a numbers game, an appeal to the adverse effects of early conditioning, a claim that the establishment (i.e., men) deliberately tries to keep women from gaining recognition, etc. However, a better response is to list a number of present and past women mathematicians who have made significant contributions. ... Young women in mathematics need to be encouraged to think of themselves as potential Fields medal winners.

In addition to organising as mathematicians, women can form local faculty caucuses. Since many faculty are apathetic about elections to faculty senates, committees, etc., it is fairly easy for a small group to be very influential. At the American University, there is now a woman as chairman of the university senate; there is also a woman member of the important university-wide committee which passes on promotions and tenure and women as chairmen and/or members of several other important committees. Work for representation on promotion and tenure, hiring, selection of dean, and budget committees, but try not to be the "token" woman.

The second Newsletter appeared in September 1971, still written almost entirely by Mary Gray. In it the change of name is recorded [3]:-
The AWM meeting brought in some new recruits but unfortunately no volunteers to work on the newsletter. We decided to change the name of the organization to the 'Association for Women in Mathematics' to relieve any discomfort the male members of the association might have felt. Since women are a minority in mathematics, the support of males is needed to improve the status of women.
The change of name had been prompted by several men wishing to join the Association to support the women's cause.

The second president of the Association was Alice Schafer. She wrote [2]:-

When I took over the presidency, Mary sent me a box with all sorts of papers, checks, etc ... When I asked her what I could do, she suggested getting AWM incorporated. That was done through a lawyer in Boston, who I had been told would charge very little, so I was amazed when he charged $500, which was really big money for AWM, and so, in the Newsletter, I asked for a contribution of a dollar from each member. Some gave and AWM did finally pay the bill. When it came to obtaining tax exemption status from the IRS, the lawyer said he would do it and I said first I would try. He said I could not do it, but, nevertheless, I did ... .
The Association began to hold sessions at the national joint meetings. For example they held "History of Women in Mathematics" sessions with Association members as speakers. In the summer of 1976 at Toronto, Mary Gray talked about Sophie Germain, Linda Keen talked about Sonya Kovalevskaya, and Martha Smith about Emmy Noether. At Atlanta in 1978 they held "Black Women in Mathematics" sessions. By 1981 the Association had over 1000 members from sixteen different countries. They organised their first major conference in March 1982, namely the Noether Symposium at Bryn Mawr College. Later they organised a Sonya Kovalevskaya celebration at Radcliffe College in October 1985. This was a two-part meeting with one part being aimed at high school girls and their teachers. This was the beginning of the Sonya Kovalevskaya High School Days held in various parts of the United States. Note that Radcliffe College, where this meeting was held, was at that time a women's college but it became a part of Harvard University in 1999.

The authors of [5] write:-

By 1991 the Association was a widely respected organization with a large influence internationally: AWM had a professional newsletter, an extensive program at the January Joint Meetings, and various projects for encouraging younger women to study mathematics.
Beginning in 1991 the Association for Women in Mathematics began regular workshops at each winter Joint Meeting and each summer meeting of the SIAM. These workshops are intended for both men and women. They also sponsor the Emmy Noether Lectures given in January each year. In addition they make a number of awards: the Joan and Joseph Birman Research Prize in Topology and Geometry; the Microsoft Research Prize in Algebra and Number Theory; the Sadosky Prize in Analysis; the Dissertation Prize; the Ruth I Michler Memorial Prize; and the Alice T Schafer Mathematics Prize. Let us say a little more about each:

Joan & Joseph Birman Research Prize in Topology and Geometry.

The Association for Women in Mathematics established the Joan and Joseph Birman Research Prize in Topology and Geometry in 2013. First presented in 2015, this prize is awarded every odd year to a woman early in her career who has published exceptional research in topology/geometry. The area topology/geometry is broadly interpreted to include topology, geometry, geometric group theory and related areas. Candidates must be women working at a US institution either within ten years of being awarded a Ph.D., or not being tenured at the time of application. The website of the Association for Women in Mathematics states [1]:-

The Association for Women in Mathematics Joan and Joseph Birman Research Prize in Topology and Geometry serves to highlight to the community outstanding contributions by women in the field and to advance the careers of the prize recipients. The award is made possible by a generous contribution from Joan Birman whose work has been in low dimensional topology and her husband Joseph who is a theoretical physicist whose specialty is applications of group theory to solid state physics.
For a list of winners, see THIS LINK.

Microsoft Research Prize in Algebra and Number Theory.

The Association for Women in Mathematics established the Microsoft Research Prize in Algebra and Number Theory in 2012. The first presentation was made in 2014, and it has subsequently been made in even years to a woman early in her career who has published exceptional research in algebra. The area of algebra is broadly interpreted to include number theory, cryptography, combinatorics and other applications, as well as more traditional areas of algebra. Candidates must be women working at a US institution either within ten years of being awarded a Ph.D., or not being tenured at the time of application. The website of the Association for Women in Mathematics states [1]:-

The Association for Women in Mathematics Microsoft Research Prize serves to highlight to the community outstanding contributions by women in the field and to advance the careers of the prize recipients. The award is made possible by a generous contribution from Microsoft Research.
For a list of winners, see THIS LINK.

Sadosky Prize in Analysis.

The Association for Women in Mathematics established the Sadosky Prize in Analysis in 2012. The first presentation was made in 2014, and it has subsequently been made in even years to a woman early in her career who has published exceptional research in analysis. The area of analysis is broadly interpreted to include all areas of analysis. Candidates must be women working at a US institution either within ten years of being awarded a Ph.D., or not being tenured at the time of application. The website of the Association for Women in Mathematics states [1]:-

The Association for Women in Mathematics Sadosky Research Prize in Analysis serves to highlight to the community outstanding contributions by women in the field and to advance the careers of the prize recipients. The award is named for Cora Sadosky, a former president of Association for Women in Mathematics and made possible by generous contributions from Cora's husband Daniel J Goldstein, daughter Cora Sol Goldstein, friends Judy and Paul S Green and Concepción Ballester.
For a list of winners and information about Cora Sadosky, see THIS LINK.

Dissertation Prize.

The Association for Women in Mathematics established the annual Dissertation Prize in January 2016. An award is made for up to three outstanding Ph.D. dissertations presented by female mathematical scientists and defended during the 24 months preceding the deliberations for the award.

Ruth I Michler Memorial Prize.

The Ruth I Michler Memorial Prize of the Association for Women in Mathematics is awarded annually to a woman recently promoted to Associate Professor or an equivalent position in the mathematical sciences. The prize provides a fellowship for the awardee to spend a semester in the Mathematics Department of Cornell University without teaching obligations. It was first awarded so that the prize could be taken in the academic year 2007-2008. The website of the Association for Women in Mathematics states [1]:-

Recently promoted associate professors face many challenges as they prepare to take on greater leadership in research and in the profession. The Ruth I Michler Memorial Prize will honour outstanding women at this stage of their careers and enable them to focus on their research in the stimulating environment of the Cornell University Mathematics Department.
For a list of winners, see THIS LINK.

Alice T Schafer Mathematics Prize.

The Association for Women in Mathematics awards the Alice T Schafer Mathematics Prize annually to an undergraduate woman for excellence in mathematics. The awardee may be at any level in her undergraduate career but must be an undergraduate when nominated. She must either be a U.S. citizen or have a school address in the United States. The website of the Association for Women in Mathematics states [1]:-

The Schafer Prize was established in 1990 by the Executive Committee of the Association for Women in Mathematics and is named for the Association for Women in Mathematics former president and one of its founding members, Alice Turner Schafer, who contributed a great deal to women in mathematics throughout her career.
For a list of winners, see THIS LINK.

Finally, we list the Presidents of the Association for Women in Mathematics [1]:

1971-1973 Mary W Gray
1973-1975 Alice T Schafer
1975-1979 Lenore Blum
1979-1981 Judith Roitman
1981-1983 Bhama Srinivasan
1983-1985 Linda P Rothschild
1985-1987 Linda Keen
1987-1989 Rhonda J Hughes
1989-1991 Jill P Mesirov
1991-1993 Carol Wood
1993-1995 Cora Sadosky
1995-1997 Chuu-Lian Terng
1997-1999 Sylvia M Wiegand
1999-2001 Jean E Taylor
2001-2003 Suzanne Lenhart
2003-2005 Carolyn Gordon
2005-2007 Barbara Keyfitz
2007-2009 Cathy Kessel
2009-2011 Georgia Benkart
2011-2013 Jill Pipher
2013-2015 Ruth Chrney
2015-2017 Kristin Lauter

List of References (5 books/articles)


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